Aimé Césaire

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They tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, ... they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples.
My mouth shall be the mouth of those calamities that have no mouth, my voice the freedom of those who break down in the prison holes of despair.

Aimé Césaire (26 June 1913 – 17 April 2008) was a Francophone and French poet, author and politician from Martinique.

Quotes[edit]

Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (1939)[edit]

Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (1939), as translated and edited by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith (2001)
  • My mouth shall be the mouth of those calamities that have no mouth, my voice the freedom of those who break down in the prison holes of despair.
    • p. 13
  • Beware of assuming the sterile attitude of a spectator, for life is not a spectacle, a sea of miseries is not a proscenium, a man screaming is not a dancing bear.
    • p. 13

Discourse on Colonialism (1955)[edit]

Discours sur le colonialisme (1955), as translated by Joan Pinkham (1972)
  • First we must study how colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred, and moral relativism; and we must show that each time a head is cut off or an eye put out in Vietnam and in France they accept the fact, each time a little girl is raped and in France they accept the fact, each time a Madagascan is tortured and in France they accept the fact, civilization acquires another dead weight, a universal regression takes place, a gangrene sets in, a center of infection begins to spread; and that at the end of all these treaties that have been violated, all these lies that have been propagated, all these punitive expeditions that have been tolerated, all these prisoners who have been tied up and interrogated, all these patriots who have been tortured, at the end of all the racial pride that has been encouraged, all the boastfulness that has been displayed, a poison has been instilled into the veins of Europe and, slowly but surely, the continent proceeds toward savagery.
    • pp. 35-36
  • And then one fine day the bourgeoisie is awakened by a terrific reverse shock: the gestapos are busy, the prisons fill up, the torturers around the racks invent, refine, discuss.

    People are surprised, they become indignant. They say: “How strange! But never mind — it’s Nazism, it will pass!” And they wait, and they hope; and they hide the truth from themselves, that it is barbarism, but the supreme barbarism, the crowning barbarism that sums up all the daily barbarisms; that it is Nazism, yes, but that before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples; that they have cultivated that Nazism, that they are responsible for it.

    • p. 36

Une Tempête (1969)[edit]

Main article: Une Tempête
as translated by Richard Miller (1985, 1992)
  • Weakness always has a thousand means and cowardice is all that keeps us from listing them.
    • Caliban in Une Tempête (1969)
  • Every time you summon me it reminds me of a basic fact, the fact that you've stolen everything from me, even my identity!
    • Caliban in Une Tempête (1969)

Quotes about Aimé Césaire[edit]

  • It is under these circumstances that, apropos of buying a ribbon for my daughter, I happened to leaf through a periodical on display in the haberdashery where the ribbon was sold. It was, under an extremely unpretentious cover, the first issue of a review called Tropiques which had just come out in Fort-de-France. Needless to say, knowing the extent to which ideas had been debased in the last year and not unfamiliar with the lack of scruples characteristic of police reactions in Martinique, I approached this periodical with extreme diffidence. ... I could not believe my eyes: for what was said there was what had to be said and was said in a manner not only as elegantly but elevatedly as anyone could say it! All the grimacing shadows were apart, scattered; all the lies, all the mockery shredded: thus the voice of man was in no way broken, suppressed—it sprang upright again like the very spike of light. Aimé Césaire, such was the name of the one who spoke.
  • At most, critics are permitted to say something about the conflicting aspects of the formation of the personality in question and to bring out the striking circumstances of that formation. Unquestionably in Césaire's case it would for once lead us, at full gallop, away from the path of indifference.

External links[edit]

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